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  • Writer's pictureFamily Mediation & Divorce Center

Co-Parenting During the Holidays

Updated: May 7, 2021

2020…whew. It has been quite a ride, no? As we approach the holiday season, we’re nearing the end of what has felt like an extraordinarily long year to most people. Whether this is your first holiday season navigating co-parenting, or you’ve been there before but are finding this year especially challenging in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are tools you can employ to get through it. Below are a few of our best tips for surviving this holiday season as a co-parent:

1. It’s okay to share your feelings.

This year has been hard. Chances are highly likely your kids have seen both you and their other parent break down on a number of occasions since the virus began spreading. So it doesn’t really do any good to try and hide your emotions from them during this already stressful time of year. Rather than smothering whatever you’re feeling (whether that’s anxiety, fear, or exhaustion), use this as an opportunity to model healthy and effective coping mechanisms to your kids. Talk to them about how you’re feeling and how you’re dealing with it. You might be surprised to find they’re having some of those same emotions themselves. You can share some grounding exercises with your kids, or even engage in mindfulness activities as a family. Allowing room for everyone to express what they’re feeling and move through that can be a powerful way to increase enjoyment of this time of year for everyone, no matter how custody is being split.

2. Focus on what really matters

We all want our kids to have magical holidays. It’s a beautiful thing for parents to want this for their kids. But on their deathbeds, your children aren’t going to remember the Playstation they got that one year or how elaborately decorated their house was. What they will remember is the pervasive sense of wellbeing, peace, and joy that can be created by purposeful togetherness at the holidays. Quality time—whatever that looks like for your family—is more important than any gift you’ll wrap or any activity you’ll participate in. It’s hard for many co-parents to avoid “competing” during the holidays, but really doing your best to avoid that type of rat race is best for everyone involved. Try to get on the same page with your co-parent about gift budgets and stick to it. Prioritizing spending time together over the material things is so important to achieving a peaceful holiday.

3. Maintain open lines of communication

Sharing custody during the holidays is tough. It can be incredibly emotional to be separated from your children during this time of year. Communicating with each other is paramount to pulling it off. Regardless of the issues you may have had in the past, work hard to be gracious with your co-parent. Even if it’s “your” turn, understand that your child(ren) may be feeling acutely about missing their other parent. Ultimately, they want both of you around all the time, but since that isn’t possible, you should do your best to involve the other parent in as many things as you can. If you’re making cookies or crafts with your kid, help them make something for your co-parent. Allow additional phone calls with the other parent. Bend where you can to make things easier for your child(ren) and less painful for your former spouse.

4. Watch your mouth

On a related note, co-parents should always be guarded in terms of how they speak about each other in front of their children. Referring to your former partner as your “ex” can be really difficult for kids to hear—especially at a time of year that is highly focused on family togetherness. The old standby of, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” is a good rule of thumb here. But also remember to center your children in any and all discussions about parenting. So instead of “my ex-husband” or “my ex-wife,” say “Matthew’s father” or “Sarah’s mother.” That kind of language honors the importance of their relationship to your child, and respects the role they play in their life (even though they’re no longer playing an intimate role in yours). You’re a co-parent forever now, so if you haven’t adjusted your language about your former partner to best serve your children yet, now is the perfect time!

5. Prioritize empathy

Holidays as a co-parent during a “normal” year are intense. But with the added layer of concern and fear regarding exposure to the novel coronavirus, no one can blame you if you’re feeling on edge. Many co-parents are finding themselves at a crossroads when they realize they disagree with their former spouse in regards to what safety measures should be taken around holiday gatherings and events. If you’re frustrated or at odds with your co-parent about things like large family gatherings during the holidays, try to take a deep breath and practice empathy. This year has been so much for all of us. Everyone is burned out and the holidays are a time of year when we’re usually able to gather together and recharge. The ultimate priority in this situation should be the health of your children, of course. Nobody wants their child to get sick (or be the reason a beloved family member gets sick). So work with your co-parent to come to an agreement about how best to keep everyone safe while also allowing for quality time with those you love.

6. Get some help

When you’re fatigued and really struggling with making the right decisions as a co-parent, it’s important to recognize what you can do on your own and what you need support with. If you’re having disagreements about holiday arrangements, don’t immediately hop on the phone and ring your lawyer. That could take things to an unnecessarily hostile place. Mediators, therapists, and coaches are a great outlet for helping you figure out a plan and reach a fair compromise. If you’re struggling to keep your head above water this holiday season, reach out and let us help you navigate this uniquely challenging situation and find a resolution that ends the year on a high note for your entire family.

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